« Here, plainly, was a guy for whom cartooning held no mysteries. He was more than a master; he was a virtuoso, a source, an innovator whose style was completely natural and original and flexible enough to embrace dashed-off vulgarity and painstaking elegance, often in the same panel. » — Jim Woodring on Jack Davis
Here we are, coming to the end of our countdown (or count-up, depending on your point of view), and who better to convey the magic of Hallowe’en than the late, great Jack Davis (1924-2016)? Don’t answer that. 😉
A 1959 collection of humorous horror songs by Alice Pearce and Hans Conried, Monster Rally (LPM/LSP-1923) sports a classic Davis painting – blending horror and humor into what amounts to a cutely-weird piece of art. Davis has mentioned that this scene is one he really enjoying doing and that he was quite pleased with. An ad for this album in issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland from back then read:
An insane and fantastically entertaining album featuring Hans Conried and Alice Pearce, singing and screaming ghoulish new songs like ‘Monster Rally’, ‘The Thing‘, ‘The Invisible Man‘, ‘Not of This Earth‘ and others. The album cover by Jack Davis is a masterpiece – suitable for framing.
[ Excerpted from Dick Voll‘s article Just for the Record: The LP Cover Art of Jack Davis (Fanfare no. 5, Summer 1983; edited and published by Bill Spicer). ]
And here are a mittful of extras, since I’m more inclined to treat than to trick on this special day.
In closing, thanks for bearing with all my divagations through this second edition of WOT’s Hallowe’en Countdown, and let me wish you a most spooky Hallowe’en, one and all!
« I hate war, Steve! I hate the people who cause it and I hate them with very atom of my being! So I pretend to respect the enemy, even like him. I try to minimize him with love! » — Gen. Maximillian R. Hart, The Zanti Misfits
Feast your rheumy peepers on Bernard Baily‘s (co-creator, with Jerry Siegel, of The Spectre) famous cover for issue 4 of Gilmore Publications’ Weird Mysteries, April 1953. The cover’s creepy promise was squandered, since Baily’s friendly lil’ fella never appears within the issue.
Rogers was a right mother from the start, but when his captain had his fill of his homicidal shenanigans, dropping him off on a remote island to cool him off, a funny thing happened. He found nothing in the place save ants, which had made short work of the unlucky goat population and the local flora. So what did the crazy bastard do? He gobbled ants. For weeks. And became a giant ant himself, it follows. You are what you eat, right?
Anyway, Rogers has got to be the most pragmatic villain ever, quite content, in the end, to be The Thing on the Beach!
Which brings me back to where I started: some say (okay, well, I do) that Baily’s WM4 cover may have inspired The Outer Limits’ ultra creepy The Zanti Misfits. Or maybe they’re just oddball products of the same era.
« Here it is, Halloween again, and all the ghouls, goblins and other beasties are coming out of their secret lairs to frighten little kiddies… who are also emerging in weird, wild costumes to frighten the grown-ups, the stay-at-homes who hand over candy or whatever ransom is demanded in the traditional Halloween challenge! » — Joe Gill, « Trick or Treat »
It was the early 1980s, and DC’s mystery books, in decline since the mid-70s, were running their final mile. They’d hardly ever risen to greatness, writing-wise, and the visuals had, for too long, borne far more of their share of the pact. And when you switch art directors from Nick Cardy to Vince Colletta, it’s got to hurt *bad*. By 1980, the strongest stylists had moved on, replaced for the most part by bland youngsters champing at the bit to move on to superhero work. The farm league, basically.
So the vultures were circling. In the midst of all the bad or lazy decisions, the most heartening exception was the frequent use of Joe Kubert‘s all-but-boundless skills on the covers. I suspect they gave him free rein… it certainly appears that way. Technical skill, thematic originality, « mysterioso », even a deftly humorous touch… it’s all there. Bravo.
As even most comics fans of the period might be surprised that the mystery books were still around, I think it safe to assume that these pieces may be unfamiliar even to devoted Kubert fans. Enjoy!
« No matter what scientists say, lumbermen of the West insist that the monster exists… Believe it or Not! » — the standard Ripley’s line, from The Beast of the Humboldt
In the early 1960s, former industry leader Dell Publishing suffered a crushing blow when Western Publishing, who had been producing Dell’s comics for them since 1938, decided to handle their own distribution, which left Dell with, well… just about zilch*. But that’s neither here nor there.
Dell had opted out of the Comics Code Authority, and Western’s subsequent comics, under the Gold Key banner, also enjoyed that advantage, not that they abused the privilege much, though the exceptions are among the finest comic books ever issued: Ghost Stories No.1 and the one-shot giant Tales From the Tomb, both from the phenomenal mind of John Stanley and published by Dell in the fall of 1962.
By the mid-1960s, Warren Magazines had pounced through the loophole of the magazine format, unregulated by the Code, to bring back monsters forbidden under the CCA’s rule. Gold Key required no such stratagem.
At first, GK’s long-running (1965-1980, 94 issues) Ripley’s Believe It or Not! * couldn’t decide on a focus: 14 of its initial 26 issues were devoted to « True Ghost Stories », two related « True War Stories », two shared « True Weird Stories », and six tackled « True Demons and Monsters ». With issue 27, the title stuck to ghosts, if not to the strict truth.
This is an excerpt from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 4 (April, 1967), featuring the work of the much underrated Joe Certa (1919-1986), who began his comics career in the mid-1940s, working in just about every genre for a score of publishers, settling with Gold Key in the mid-60s and staying on until his retirement in 1980. He’s most remembered for his co-creation (with writer Joseph Samachson) of, and lengthy stint on J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter (1955-68), as well as for drawing every single issue of Gold Key’s loose adaptation of television’s first supernatural soap, Dark Shadows (35 issues, 1969-76). By this time, Certa’s style had evolved from a fairly mainstream style to a wonderfully blocky, angular and shadowy style that left him ill-suited to the depiction of standard superheroics… but prepared him well for moodier fare.
*the one priceless creative asset that Dell managed to hold onto was John Stanley, not that they appreciated him. When he left the industry, it wasn’t with a carefree grin and a spring in his step.
** « Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is a franchise, founded by Robert Ripley, which deals in bizarre events and items so strange and unusual that readers might question the claims. The Believe It or Not panel proved popular and was later adapted into a wide variety of formats, including radio, television, comic books, a chain of museums and a book series. »
Another astonishing madman from the Playboy magazine stable, Bernard Kliban (1935-1990) is mainly remembered for his much-merchandised « Cat » cartoons, but he was a true master of a vein of absurdist humour that few mine with such success. It’s high time for a collected œuvre or at the very least a comprehensive anthology. Fantagraphics, are you listening?
These pieces were gathered in the Playboy’s Kliban collection (1979) and its sequel, Playboy’s New Kliban (1980). Every single one of the man’s books (of which only the Cat books remain in print, I believe) is assuredly worth seeking out, but fair warning: left to his own devices, and away from the Playboy ethos, Kliban goes much farther afield into (extremely inspired) absurdity and abstraction.
« Certain types of stories make perfect television fare. In the realm of the ghost story, however, I think the printed page has some advantages and I want you to discover them. When you read, you can be alone — absolutely alone. » — Alfred Hitchcock (but likely Robert Arthur in his name and place.)
Today, we feature Fred Banbery’s fabulously detailed and, well, haunting illustrations for « Alfred Hitchcock’s Haunted Houseful ».
Frederick Ernest Banbery (1913-1999) was perhaps the definitive Paddington Bear portrayer, but for me, it’s his Hitchcock-related work that truly sings. He illustrated three Random House Hitchcock books for younger readers: Haunted Houseful (1961), Ghostly Gallery (1962), and Solve-Them-Yourself-Mysteries (1963), plus the covers of a handful of Hitch paperback short story collections. These books can still be had surprisingly cheap to this day (I just checked eBay, and it holds), so keep an eye out. Every picture’s a gem, to say nothing of the stories!
My wife said something about my « stretching the definition of comics » with this one, but, honestly, thanks to the cartoony style, this feels more authentically like comics to me than, for instance, most comics painted in a self-consciously ‘realistic’ style (think Alex Ross, Jon J. Muth or Kent Williams), not that I’m disparaging that approach… it’s just not my thing.
« Plenty of nocturnal ambiance in this book… It stems, I suppose, from an old childhood reminiscence. When I was little, gaslit street lamps were still around, and they created, in the evening, rather extraordinary effects of light. That slightly sinister element stuck with me, and I love to recreate this sort of thing. » – Maurice Tillieux
Private detective Gil Jourdan finds the proper spot from which to conduct a nocturnal stakeout, in his fourth (and possibly finest) investigation, « Les cargos du crépuscule », originally serialized weekly in issues 1113 to 1137 of Spirou magazine, back in 1959-60.
Ah, but this time, non-French-fluent readers won’t be left out in the cold. The late Fantagraphics co-publisher Kim Thompson was a lifelong fan of Tillieux’s work, and was quite willing to put words into action and bleed some money in the process. Before his passing in 2013, he had time to publish a pair of twofer volumes of Jourdan (slightly renamed Gil Jordan*) adventures, « Murder by High Tide » (which contains this tale, entitled here « Leap of Faith ») and « Ten Thousand Years in Hell ». Fans of clever and suspenseful noir should not miss these babies.
This being a Hallowe’en post, I’ve squarely put the emphasis on mood rather than action, but let me assure you that these bédés contain plenty of action, and of the highest calibre. Fantagraphics’ promotional blurb gets it right (except that the Hergé comparison is perhaps a bit lazy, but probably necessary given the audience): « Another never-before-translated classic from the Golden Age of Franco-Belgian comics, finally brought to American readers. Imagine the beautifully crisp images of Hergé (Tintin) put in service of a series of wise-cracking, fast-paced detective stories punctuated with scenes of spectacular vehicular mayhem (including in this volume a dockside pursuit via car and bulldozer) and you’ll see why 50 years later Gil Jordan is still considered a masterpiece in Europe. »
*I can’t help but think that the detective’s renaming to « Gil Jordan » was a bit of a Fantagraphics inside joke, given that the publisher employed, for a couple of decades or so, a news correspondent/translator/editor by the name of… Gil Jordan. It’s not as if « Jourdan» is such an unknown name to Americans.
« Greetings, friends. Did we catch any of those horrible ghosts in my famous ghost traps? » – J. Wellington Wimpy, up to no good as usual
I absolutely adore how, in Popeye the sailor’s salty vernacular, revenants are referred to as « ghosks ». Aww… Let’s meet a few of these spooks, who most often, to this reader’s regret, turn out to be mere goons in sheets. Oh well.
« It was the town dandy! That spiffy cigar-store indian! Within the impact of a second I knew what I had to do! » – Ron gets it wrong.
It’s become a historical footnote that, before fully settling into their (for a time) winning formula of lighthearted, cartoony monomania with Casper, Richie Rich, Little Dot and their ilk, Harvey Comics had published, pre-Code, some of the most, er… transgressive horror comics in the field. And before he settled down to designing and pencilling the lion’s share of Harvey Comics‘ admittedly inventive and arresting covers, art director Warren Kremer had fulfilled many of the same in-house duties in the more daring and diverse pre-Code years. A remarkably inventive and versatile artist, Kremer’s true worth has historically been obscured by his retiring, behind-the-scenes status, as well as the Harvey family’s plantation mentality. Today, let’s take a peek at the nuts and bolts of his collaborative partnership with cover artist Lee Elias, who would go on to become one of DC’s most straight-laced artists (though his talent remained undimmed.) It would seem, and it’s quite understandable, that a lot of artists who’d merrily produced horror comics in the early 1950s got burned by the ensuing censorious witch hunt / backlash… and became quite timid thereafter.
Said poster features dapper Count Morbida (and friends, er, fiends), lovingly rendered by Arthur Friedman (hopefully no relation to evil crank Milton).
The cranky-but-adorable Count hosted his own Monthly Puzzle Pages in Dynamite, and even if the challenges were child’s play, they rarely failed to entertain on the verbal and visual level. Linda Williams Aber (aka Magic Wanda) ably juggled the bons mots.
Despite his unrepentantly evil ways, the crafty nobleman accrued sufficient popularity to glom cover-feature honours a few times, as well as a spinoff book or two. Case in point: Dynamite 12 (June, 1975).